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Obituary: Vicente Fernández, Mexico’s king of ranchera



bbc– In 1998, just months before Mexican musician Vicente Fernández earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, his eldest son, Vicente Jr, was kidnapped.

The artist was critically acclaimed and had sold tens of millions of records worldwide. But his fame had attracted the wrong sort of attention.

The kidnappers cut off two of Vicente Jr’s fingers. He was released after four months for a reported ransom of $3.2m (£2.3m).

But Vicente Fernández – wildly popular abroad as well as in Mexico – outright refused to leave his home country.

“I will live my whole life in Mexico. I want that to be clear. From my country, they will only take me out feet first,” he reportedly said.

Some 5,000 people came to see him receive his star on Hollywood Boulevard just months later – reportedly a record turn out.

Known as the king of ranchera music, a traditional Mexican musical genre, Fernández was a national treasure, a symbol of folk culture known and loved by millions.

His voice and his immense popularity at home and abroad earned him comparisons to Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, as well as dozens of awards. He also created a musical dynasty, with his sons Alejandro and Vicente Jr becoming hugely successful musicians.

The 81-year-old passed away on Sunday in his home city of Guadalajara. The singer has been in poor health for months after suffering at his ranch earlier this year.

“We regret to inform you of his death on Sunday, December 12 at 6:15 a.m.,” a post on the singer’s Instagram page said.

Fernández was born on a ranch outside the Mexican city of Guadalajara on 17 February 1940. The city is the capital of the state of Jalisco, which is famous for its culture in general, and ranchera music in particular.

He grew up working on his father’s ranch and watching the films of Mexican actor and ranchera singer Pedro Infante, one of three traditional singers in Mexico at the time known as the Three Roosters. Infante was one of the inspirations for the character Ernesto de la Cruz in the 2017 Pixar film Coco.

“Some of my earliest memories, from when I was six or seven, are of going to see Pedro Infante movies and telling my mother, ‘When I grow up I want to be like them,'” Fernández said.

By the age of eight, he had learned to play the guitar and begun singing ranchera music. After a brief spell working odd jobs in Tijuana, where his family had moved after his father lost the ranch, Fernández returned to Jalisco to pursue a career in music full time in 1960, working as a busker and making occasional television appearances.

Soon after, he moved to Mexico City and sang in a restaurant to make ends meet, but he returned to Jalisco and got married after failing to get a record contract.

His big break came in 1966. Javier Solís, the last of the so-called Three Roosters, died after complications from surgery, and CBS Records offered Fernández a contract. He released his first album, Perdóname, that same year and has been with the label ever since.

In the decades that followed, Fernández became one of the most famous entertainers in Mexico. He released more than 50 albums and between 1971 and 1991 starred in dozens of films, for which he also occasionally wrote the soundtracks.

His albums sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, and by the 1980s he had begun to tour throughout North and South America – dressed for every performance in a traditional embroidered charro suit and sombrero.

He was also critically acclaimed. Over the course of his career he won three Grammy Awards, eight Latin Grammy Awards, and more than a dozen Lo Nuestro awards for Latin music. Fernández even has a street named after him in the US city of Chicago and a statue of him in his home city of Guadalajara.

But Fernández was also for some a controversial figure. He has long been associated with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which governed the country for 71 uninterrupted years from 1929 to 2000. Many of its high-ranking members have been arrested for corruption.

Fernández appeared at many political rallies, even performing a song at an official event for President Enrique Peña Nieto, a PRI politician who governed from 2012 to 2018. Mexican prosecutors have since opened a corruption investigation into the ex-president.

And in January 2021 he sparked outrage after footage emerged of Fernández grabbing a female fan’s breast. He later confirmed he had done so, telling the press: “I don’t know if it was a joke, I don’t remember… I apologise with all my heart.”

Fernández announced his retirement in 2012 but continued recording albums – releasing his last in December 2020. He also earned new fans through his Instagram account, where he shared family moments with his more than two million followers.

And in 2016 he performed one final time, in Mexico City’s massive Azteca Stadium, home of Mexico’s national football team. Some 85,000 people attended the event, which was also broadcast live in Mexico and the US and released as a record later in the year – earning him his third Grammy Award.

“There is one thing that cannot be bought even with all the gold in the world and that you have always given me,” he told the crowd. “Your affection, your respect and your applause.”

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Latin America

Pedro I: Emperor’s embalmed heart arrives in Brazil



The embalmed heart of Brazil’s first emperor, Dom Pedro I, has arrived in the capital Brasilia to mark 200 years of independence from Portugal.

The heart, which lies preserved in a flask filled with formaldehyde, was flown on board a military plane from Portugal.

It will be received with military honours before going on public display at the foreign ministry.

The heart will be returned to Portugal after Brazil’s independence day.

Portuguese officials gave the go-ahead for the preserved organ to be moved from the city of Porto for the celebrations of Brazil’s bicentenary.

The organ arrived on a Brazilian air force plane accompanied by the mayor of Porto, Rui Moreira.

Mayor Moreira said it would return to Portugal after having basked “in the admiration of the Brazilian people”.

“The heart will be received like a head of state, it will be treated as if Dom Pedro I was still living amongst us,” Brazil foreign ministry’s chief of protocol Alan Coelho de Séllos said.

There will be a cannon salute, a guard of honour and full military honours.

“The national anthem [will be played] and the independence anthem, which by the way was composed by Dom Pedro I, who as well as an emperor was a good musician in his spare time,” Mr Séllos said.

Dom Pedro was born in 1798 into Portugal’s royal family, which at the time also ruled over Brazil. The family fled to the then-Portuguese colony to evade Napoleon’s invading army.

When Dom Pedro’s father, King John VI, returned to Portugal in 1821, he left the 22-year-old to rule Brazil as regent.

A year later, the young regent defied the Portuguese parliament, which wanted to keep Brazil as a colony, and rejected its demand that he return to his home country.

On 7 September 1822 he issued Brazil’s declaration of independence and was soon after crowned emperor.

He returned to Portugal to fight for his daughter’s right to accede to the Portuguese throne and died aged 35 of tuberculosis.

On his deathbed, the monarch asked that his heart be removed from his body and taken to the city of Porto, where it is kept in an altar in the church of Our Lady of Lapa.

His body was transferred to Brazil in 1972 to mark the 150th anniversary of independence and has been kept in a crypt in São Paulo.

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Brazil’s indigenous communities fear mining threat over war in Ukraine



Maurício Ye’kwana worries about the future. He comes from the community of Auaris, in northern Brazil, close to the border with Venezuela.

The area, part of the Yanomami Indigenous Territory, is rich in gold, diamonds and minerals – and illegal miners want a piece of it. In all, there are an estimated 20,000 illegal miners on the land.

“It’s got worse in the past few years,” Maurício says, explaining that during the pandemic, the number of planes, helicopters and boats linked to illegal mining increased.

He’s only 35, but it’s the younger generation that concerns him – boys increasingly being lured into illegal work.

“The young people are the best boat drivers,” he says. They can earn as much as 10,000 Brazilian reais ($2,140; £1,645) for a single trip.

Maurício has come to Brasilia to take part in the Free Land Camp, an annual event that brings together indigenous communities looking to defend their land rights.

On Brasilia’s main esplanade, a grand avenue that leads to Congress and the presidential palace, communities from across the country have erected hundreds of tents.

Milling around the camp are indigenous Brazilians, many of them wearing feathered headdresses, intricate beaded jewellery and painted with geometric tattoos identifying their tribe.

This year, the event has taken on an even bigger meaning.

President Jair Bolsonaro has made it his mission to push economic development in the Amazon. In his latest attempt to make inroads into indigenous territories, he has cited the war in Ukraine. Brazil relies heavily on imported fertilisers for its agribusiness industry – more than 90% of its fertilisers come from abroad, and Russia is its most important partner.

“A good opportunity arose for us,” Mr Bolsonaro said of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has argued that by mining in indigenous territories, Brazil can build more of its own potassium reserves.

It’s an argument questioned by some experts.

“Only 11% of the reserves are inside indigenous lands and other states like São Paulo and Minas have reserves,” says politician Joenia Wapichana, the first indigenous woman voted into Congress in 2018. “It’s a false narrative that tries to confuse the minds of the Brazilians, making them believe it’s important, that people won’t have food on their table.”

Also, it’s not a short-term fix.

“From a technological and environmental perspective, the licences needed and the infrastructure – it all takes time. Being able to offer these products to the Brazilian market would probably take seven to 10 years,” says Suzi Huff, Prof of Geology at the University of Brasilia. “We’re talking about an extremely sensitive area in which care needs to be taken. It’s false to say that it will solve Brazil’s problems.”

The bill has been in the works since 2020. But last month, the lower house voted to consider it under emergency provisions, removing the need for committee debates.

“It’s very clearly blackmail,” says Prof Huff. “Bolsonaro saw an opportunity to continue with this project of allowing mineral exploration including in indigenous lands and used the scarcity of fertilisers in Brazil to move forward with this project.”

It was expected to be voted on in the lower house this week, but that hasn’t happened – and few believe, in this election year, that it will. Not even the big players in the industry agree with it, with the Brazilian Institute of Mining last month saying it was a bill “not suitable for its intended purposes”, and calling for broader debate.

While a delay in voting is seen as a relief by indigenous leaders, it’s still a challenge on the ground.

“A fiery political discourse encourages invasions in indigenous lands,” says Joenia Wapichana. “The fact that Bolsonaro says he supports mining, that he will regulate mining in indigenous lands already exposes the indigenous people and makes them more vulnerable.”

The discourse is, of course, deeply political, especially with elections around the corner. On Tuesday, former president Lula da Silva – and the man leading in the polls to win October’s vote – made a visit to the camp.

“Today the headlines are about a government that doesn’t have scruples when it comes to offending and attacking the indigenous communities who are already on this land,” he said.

The response was huge cheers of “out with Bolsonaro” – but there are still six months until the elections. And this is Brazil – much can change in politics here, and the future of Brazil’s indigenous tribes is more uncertain than ever.

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Homes engulfed as deadly landslide hits Colombia



A landslide triggered by heavy rains has killed at least 14 people in central Colombia, officials say.

Another 35 people were now in hospital after several homes were engulfed in the Dosquebradas municipality, Risaralda province, on Tuesday.

The officials issued a photo showing a gash in the lush foliage covering a mountain overlooking the area.

Other residents living close to a swollen river nearby have been moved to safety.

Rescue teams have been searching in the mud for more survivors, Colombia’s disaster management officials said.

“A very loud noise scared us. We went out and saw a piece of the mountain on top of the houses,” taxi driver Dubernei Hernandez told the AFP news agency.

“I went to that place and it was a disaster, with people trapped.”

Mr Hernandez said he helped dig up two bodies and a survivor. At least five homes were buried by the mud, he added.

There are fears that the death toll will rise further.

Landslides are common in Colombia and houses built on steep hillsides are at particular risk during the country’s rainy season.

In 2019, at least 28 people were killed after a landslide hit the south-western Cauca province.

Two years earlier, more than 250 people were killed when a landslide hit the town of Mocoa, in the southern Putumayo province.


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